The President’s Column by Rev. Addae Ama Kraba

Rev. Addae Ama Kraba

Rev. Addae Ama Kraba

It is my great honor, privilege, and opportunity to serve as the new president of IWC. As my three-year term begins, I will seek to build on the successes of the organization to further its important mission of empowering women worldwide. As we start implementing IW’s new strategic plan, we will seek your engagement to achieve our organizational goals. Stay tuned for more specific details.

Please join us in honoring and celebrating International Women’s Day in 2019: a comprehensive packet for congregations is available for download/consultation, on our website.

The leadership pilot program in Bolivia is now under way – thank you to all those who donated to IWC’s Faithify campaign in the spring! Please read the exciting report on pages 2-3.

IWC and the UU Women’s Federation have adopted a joint statement in response to the Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court because we believe in a world without patriarchy and toxic masculinity – and we pledge to do our part in dismantling oppressive patriarchal structures and putting an end to a culture of misogyny and rape.

I’m delighted to announce the launch of several violence awareness and prevention programs, in partnerships with national U*U women’s organizations in Transylvania, India, and the Philippines. More information is listed on pages 6-9.

Julie Steinbach reports on the success of a #MeToo-era campaign led by Stanford law professor Michele Dauber, stream speaker at the Third Convocation; Dauber’s new project aims to make violence against women a voting issue in U.S. (page 12). IWC’s workshop at UUA General Assembly in June tackled gender-based violence in U*U congregations and communities (more information on pages 10-11).

UNOSZ, the Unitarian Women’s Association of Romania – in collaboration with IWC – launched a book of prayers and meditations on the 450th anniversary of the Edict of Torda. U*U women from all corners of the world contributed to this special publication, and efforts are being made to make it available outside of Romania.

We are honored to welcome Matilda Kiss from Transylvania, a great addition to our board of directors. A brief biography is listed on page 15.

Given the recent events surrounding the U.S. President’s pick for the Supreme Court and the reports of the violence awareness programs and campaigns in this newsletter, I feel that our work is more valuable than ever. Your continued support for our mission to empower women is greatly appreciated.

Pilot Training in Bolivia: Building Women’s Capacity to Spark Change

 

By Calixta Choque Churata, Xiomara Sainz Salinas, and Zsófia Sztranyiczki

pilot-training-in-bolivia-building-womens-capacity-to-spark-changeThe leadership pilot program in Bolivia – launched thanks to women and men who donated to IWC’s Faithify campaign in the spring – kicked off in August under the leadership of project coordinator Calixta Choque Churata. A Unitarian and former human development director in the Luribay Municipality of Bolivia, Calixta attended IWC’s 2015 Gathering in Bolivia, where she emerged as a leader to carry forth the participants’ commitments to action.

The pilot initiative aims to build the capacity of women to unleash their leadership potential, empowering them to spark change in their own lives and in the lives of their families and communities. The project takes place in District 7 of Viacha (a city next to El Alto and close to La Paz that is home to Aymara immigrants; it has 45 thousand inhabitants, most living in poverty). Women in this area are overwhelmingly homemakers or street vendors (and thus part of the informal economy). State services including health facilities are scarce, streets are full of dust, and there is no garbage collection or sewage system.

pilot-training-in-bolivia-building-womens-capacity-to-spark-changeThree practical simultaneous workshops – vocational training in hairdressing, sewing, and baking – are empowering women economically, breaking down the barriers that hold women back. Each training has approximately 20 women of all ages, and many take their children with them. The baking class teaches how to make bread, cookies, empanadas, and Swiss rolls. The sewing class teaches how to master a sewing machine and has produced cholitas (traditional pleated skirts), tablecloths, sportswear, and other types of clothing. The hairdressing class is quite popular because the professional hairdressing school is far away and costly. Incidentally, the clientele has grown substantially since the classes provide free haircuts for the children of poor mothers.

The program plans to build women’s leadership capacities and skills through topics addressing entrepreneurship, labor rights, personal skills (developing self-esteem and self-confidence), domestic violence prevention, as well as spirituality. The leadership courses envisioned will take place outside of class schedules or in class hours, depending on the situation. The resource persons for these courses come from institutions or specialists on the topics.

pilot-training-in-bolivia-building-womens-capacity-to-spark-change

As of this writing, a few introductory sessions have been implemented focusing on power, toxic masculinity, and femicides; entrepreneurship (how to start a small enterprise); leadership; as well as spirituality and meditation. Two women broke their silence, coming forward to share their domestic violence experiences, two in public, and one in private. The meditation classes revealed that the women didn’t have any experience with meditation, providing their first time for self-observation. They could feel, at least for a few seconds, inner peace. This process will help them lead to more self-awareness and acceptance of who they are; it will enhance their self-confidence to make empowering, conscious choices.

pilot-training-in-bolivia-building-womens-capacity-to-spark-change“The pilot project in Bolivia is a demonstration that with few resources it is possible to support the training of women to increase their income, as a step towards their better economic positioning,” says Olga Flores Bedregal, leader of a small UU community in La Paz. In addition, leadership skills and attitudes will enable them to bring positive change not only in their lives and that of their families but in their communities as well.

Seng Kynthei Makes Strides in Addressing Violence against Women and Girls

By Major Elgiva Dora Shullai, Global Sister Coordinator, SKUUNEI, India

seng-kynthei-addresses-violence-against-womenSeng Kynthei, the Women’s Wing of the North East India Unitarian Union, has started a violence awareness and prevention campaign, supported by IWC through a UU Funding Program grant and plate collections from Transylvanian Unitarian congregations in honor of Mother’s Day.

During the summer, several violence awareness programs took place in Unitarian communities in North East India, under the leadership of Elgiva Shullai, Global Sisters Coordinator for Seng Kynthei. 24 women attended the awareness program on violence against women and girls in Smit (Kharang Circle); 67 women, men, and youth took part in a similar program in Jowai (Jowai Circle); and 27 women participated in a similar program in Kyrdem (Bhoi Circle).

Resource persons (Dr. Rica Lamar, Ms. Karuna Lamar, and representatives of NGOs in the Khasi and Jaintia Hills) spoke on sex and gender, the role of women in the Khasi matrilineal society, gender-based violence, the use and abuse of power, as well as women’s legal rights and the various government laws that are already in place to protect, prevent, and curb violence. They encouraged the participants to be vigilant, and to report crimes and abuses in order to help create a safer and healthier society for all.

Dr. Rica urged the women to think of ways and means to raise Khasi children – both girls and boys – on a gender equality foundation. In addition, she urged participants to live their faith responsibly, both in church life and in the community, and to form a strong community group that can be a source of help and information for women and girls.

An important takeaway of these awareness programs is that India needs institutions that have effective and easily accessible monitoring systems and stringent laws against perpetrators. Perpetrators must be held to account, ensuring timely justice for victims: the safety and protection of victims and their rehabilitation is of utmost significance.

Elgiva, speaking about the program, mentioned that rape cases are starting to be reported: “In Kyrdem, the women presented three cases of rapes happening in their villages. One involved a minor (whose mother was present at the meeting), another a widow, and the third victim a mentally challenged young woman. All these cases had been registered with the health services, the police department, and government schemes for help and rehabilitation have been given to them – their court cases are pending. It was wonderful to realize that women are finally daring to break their silence and take their cases to the authorities! I take this opportunity to thank the participants who have felt the need and responsibility to attend the programs, our resource persons, and our sponsors and guides at all levels to make this program a success.”

 

Transylvanian Women Say No to Intimate Partner Violence

By Gyöngyi Forró-Erős, school psychologist

Transylvanian Women Say No to Intimate Partner ViolenceIn partnership with IWC, UNOSZ, the Association of Unitarian Women of Romania, addressed violence against women – particularly intimate partner violence – at the 6th module of the leadership training for Unitarian women, Marosvásárhely/Târgu Mureș, September 21-23, 2018.

Domestic violence is not one’s own business: its ramifications are far-reaching and profound, going beyond the scope of the family. The phenomenon is a deep societal issue that needs to be addressed, and community leaders have a crucial role in combatting such gender-based violence.

Transylvanian Women Say No to Intimate Partner ViolenceAbout 40 women participated in the three-day training. Mental hygiene specialist and Unitarian minister Dr. Enikő Ferenczi and psychologist Dr. Éva László talked about domestic violence and its types, manifestations, as well as effects on the surrounding environment. They emphasized that domestic violence does not exclusively mean physical aggression: a partner can resort to verbal, emotional, spiritual, or financial abuse; disparagement of one’s faith or religious convictions is also a form of abuse. Jail psychologist Erika Moldován focused on the relationship of domestic violence to patterns of conviction: males exposed to domestic violence as children are more likely to engage in domestic violence as adults; instances of abuse are more frequent in cases where husbands were abused as children or who saw their mothers being abused.

Participants were also informed of the current Romanian legislation against domestic violence and the policies in place to protect victims. If a victim of domestic abuse kills her intimate partner in an act of self-defense, she must be tried, since Romania does not recognize justifiable homicide.

Transylvanian Women Say No to Intimate Partner ViolenceAn interesting topic was why victims stay in an abusive relationship. The answer is manifold. Domestic violence has its own cycle: abuse is followed by a honeymoon phase, during which the victim becomes more convinced that her partner will change and that leaving the relationship is not necessary. Then tension builds, and abuse begins again. The surrounding environment – whether in a narrower or broader sense – is often unsupportive and unaccepting: traditional attitudes such as “women must bear up” are deeply ingrained in society. In many cases, the abuser is known as a gentleman, and so people around do not accept the fact that he does not behave like a gentleman at home. Victims often lack information or resources: they don’t know from whom and where they can ask for help.  Many lack courage to speaTransylvanian Women Say No to Intimate Partner Violencek up, feel ashamed, or are afraid of the future.

What can community leaders do? First and foremost, they cannot sweep this topic under the rug: they must talk about it. They must be attentive to warning signs and help victims of domestic violence. They can put together safety plans, find shelters, offer psychological support, and report abuse incidents to the authorities. Domestic violence is not a private matter: we must all do our part for the good of everyone, for the safety and well-being of our society.

 

A participant in the violence awareness training shared her thoughts with us, anonymously:

A participant in the violence awareness training shared her thoughts with us, anonymously

What this weekend training offered I cannot really put into words. I didn’t talk much, I didn’t share my story, I didn’t talk about what happened to me – but I can tell you that the training has changed my life.

I had experienced all the manifestations of domestic violence that the experts talked about. After years of suffering and hope, I got a divorce. I had always hoped for change. I convinced myself that in time our life would be better. That time never came – instead, the situation became worse and worse. That is why I decided to file for divorce. But that did not mean an end to my ordeal. My family, relatives, and acquaintances blamed me and told me that I should have endured. That I shouldn’t have gotten a divorce. My child should have been raised by her own father. This is the reason why she is also divorced. Confronted with such charges, I could only become filled with self-guilt. I blamed myself for my failures and the failures of those around me. Then various illnesses started…when the leadership school was launched, I signed up. The training sessions filled me spiritually. Every time I came closer to myself. When I went home from this training, I sat down and thought it over. Again and again. Then I told myself I am ready to forgive myself.

My heart is filled with gratitude. Thank you, for making me unburden a heavy load that others kept piling on my shoulders; a load that I silently carried and even added to…which I could hardly bear any longer.

I forgave myself! How odd this sounds but how much power it carries. Now I know that I wasn’t the reason for our lives not working out together. I am grateful to the experts and the organizers for helping me to forgive myself and finally breathe freely, unburdened, giving thanks to the Almighty that I am. And I am who I am. Thank you!

President’s Column: Pathways to Change

Arlene Johnson, President, International Women's Convocation

Arlene Johnson

By Arlene Johnson

I would be remiss if I did not call out the most exciting news from my home country of Ireland last week.  With a large voter turn-out – fueled by shifting attitudes on the legalization of abortion, along with the declining influence of the Catholic Church exacerbated by sexual abuse scandals – the Irish people spoke loudly and clearly that women have the right to make their own decisions without church or government interference.

We are pleased to announce that our IWC Board has completed a new strategic plan. The plan is the outcome of a year-long process undertaken by the international board via online conference calls, under the skilled leadership of IWC board member Kathy Burek. We greatly appreciate the hard work and effort that all involved have put into this critical strategic planning process. Please read the summary of the plan on page 2.

Two board members (Phyllis Marsh, Treasurer and Rev. Carol Huston, Vice-President) and I had an excellent meeting in late March with UUA President Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray in Boston.  Our Executive Director, Zsófia Sztranyiczki participated by phone. This was an opportunity to share with President Frederick-Gray our new strategic plan as well as explore ways we can enhance our collaboration with the UUA.

Plans are underway for a planning meeting in September with the UU Women’s Federation, UU Women and Religion, and representatives of other UU organizations in the U.S. that focus on issues of concern to women. The meeting, prompted by input from women in the U.S. and other countries attending our Third International Convocation last year in California, is an opportunity to share experience, expertise, and insights as we unite our voices to strengthen collaboration and lay out strategies for collective action.

Led by Rev. Carol Huston, some of our IWC members attended the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women meetings in New York during the last two weeks of March and a brief report is included on page 11.

We are delighted to have received a $2,000 grant plus a Challenge Grant of $2,000 from the Fund for International Unitarian Universalism. It will help IWC assist women in the Khasi Hills, India expand their violence awareness program and lay the groundwork for a future OWL initiative.

If you are planning to attend the UUA General Assembly in June, we invite you to our Annual Breakfast on Saturday morning, June 23: come hear Dr. Rica Lamar from Meghalaya, India, member of IWC’s Global Sisters Leadership Council talk about combatting and preventing violence in the Khasi Hills. In addition, we are sponsoring a workshop on Saturday afternoon in collaboration with the UU Women’s Federation, looking at the impact of the #Me Too movement and ways in which U*U women confront bullying and abuse in systems of patriarchal authority. More information is listed on page 6.

With my three-year term as president finishing at the end of June, I want to thank all of you for the privilege and opportunity to serve in this capacity. It has been a growth-filled and amazing journey!  The IWC board is delighted to announce that Rev. Addae Kraba has agreed to serve as our next president along with two new board members, Karen Kortsch and Geri Kennedy (more information on page 4). Your continued support for our mission to empower women is greatly appreciated!

 

IWC Board Adopts New Strategic Plan

By Kathy Burek, on behalf of the IWC Board of Directors

IWC Vision:

We are a global partnership of U*U women

who work for women’s empowerment

through U*U connections around the world.

The IWC Board of Directors recently completed a year-long strategic planning process. IWC’s strategic plan intends to build on the great work accomplished over its 8-year history and help shape the future of the organization.

We affirm IWC’s identity as an organization of women, grounded in Unitarian, Universalist, and Unitarian Universalist principles and values (U*U principles hereafter). A primary goal of IWC is to achieve gender equity and to empower women. What unites us across national borders, race, and class lines is our commitment to empowering women and dismantling patriarchy and other structures of oppression.

Another important part of our identity is that we are an international organization, not simply a U.S. organization with international interests. We are committed to supporting projects that arise from and are led by the communities served. We will engage in partnerships based on equality, and not operate on the “savior” or “charity” models. Being culturally sensitive it critical. We do not wish to perpetuate U.S. cultural hegemony. Sustainability is an important criterion for our work; we seek to build on the existing capabilities in the communities we serve. IWC also pledges to be accountable to all of our stakeholders. We are nondiscriminatory in our work, open to all who share our vision and values.

As a small organization, IWC can’t do it all. Part of our process was to decide what work we can do, trusting that there are others who will address issues we cannot address. We remain committed to empowering women in our five program areas of Economic Empowerment, Education, Health and Reproductive Justice, Leadership Development, and Violence Prevention. Leadership Development will be one of our priority areas for the next five years, as we build on the Global Initiative for Women’s Leadership launched at the IWC Business Meeting last year. The #MeToo movement provides IWC with an opportunity to leverage a worldwide campaign by emphasizing work in Violence Prevention. We have been successful in raising funds to support violence awareness programs in the Philippines, India, and Bolivia; we will also offer a workshop on this topic at the 2018 UUA General Assembly in U.S. Gatherings and convocations will continue to be vital as we build meaningful relationships and partnerships.

IWC values our many partners, especially U*U women’s organizations in the U.S., India, the Philippines, Hungary, and Romania. Together with the UU Women’s Federation and the UU Women & Religion, we will organize a meeting of U*U women’s organizations and organizations focusing on women’s advancement in the Boston area this coming September. This meeting will help us coordinate our activities and collaborate to achieve common goals.

IWC relies heavily on grants which are passed along to the projects we sponsor. The financial support of the UU Funding Panels makes our work possible, and we are grateful for their assistance. Building a stable source of funding for our programs and activities is a critical goal. We need to support and expand our staff if we are to attain our goals.

We also need many hands to do this important work. You will be hearing over the next year about ways you can help IWC.

You will find the IWC Strategic Plan here. Your comments and feedback are always welcome!

New Board Nominees: Rev. Addae Kraba, Geri Kennedy, Karen Kortsch

addae-krabaRev. Addae Kraba, USA, President (2018-2021)

Rev. Addae Ama Kraba is an ordained Unitarian Universalist Minister, currently residing in Boerne, TX. She earned a Master of Divinity degree from Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley, CA. Rev. Kraba was the first person of color installed as minister to the First Universalist Church of Southold, Long Island, New York. She later served as Community Minister of First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia, PA. Active at both district and denominational levels, Rev. Kraba was on the Association’s Committee on Anti-Racism, Anti-Oppression and Multiculturalism, Trustee for the Joseph Priestly District, and Murray Grove Retreat and Conference Center in Lanoka Harbor, New Jersey. She served as Co-Convener of Unitarian Universalist Women and Religion and was on the planning committees of the first and third international U*U women’s convocations (Houston, TX, 2009 and Asilomar, CA, 2017). She currently serves the UU congregation of New Braunfels, Texas.

 

geri-kennedyGeri Kennedy, USA, Treasurer (2018-2021)

A UU for about 30 years, Geri Kennedy is a member of the UU Fellowship of Redwood City, CA.  Before her retirement in January 2018, she spent 25 years managing homeowners’ associations, partly in a company of her own. Moving to the banking world, Geri assisted associations in all aspects of their banking needs, including help with their reserve funding and loans when necessary. She got involved with the Pacific Central District’s Women and Religion Task Force in the early 90s, served as its co-convener for many years, and then its treasurer. Geri was also the UU Fellowship of Redwood City’s bookkeeper for about 15 years. She served on the boards of the Partner Church Council and UU Women & Religion; acting as the treasurer of UU Women & Religion, Geri helped them to obtain their 501(c3) status.  She looks forward to working with such a meaningful organization as IWC.

 

karen-kortschKaren Kortsch, USA, Director (2018-2021)

Karen Kortsch is an active member of North Shore Unitarian Church in Deerfield, IL. A UU for the past 15 years, she has been a member of IWC since 2012 and a strong supporter of its mission to empower women worldwide. Karen is also active in several other organizations such as the American Association of University Women, National Organization for Women, and National Nurses United: all organizations working to advance gender equity. A registered nurse at Capt. James Lovell Federal Health Care Facility in Chicago, IL, Karen works with the mentally ill. In this capacity, she sees that gender inequality takes a toll on women and society in many ways, including mental health. She is very excited to work with IWC and looks forward to making a positive contribution.

 

 

The Book of Colors and Love:  U*U Women’s Prayers and Meditations for Torda 450 Anniversary

By Gizella Nagy, Vice-President, UNOSZ

UNOSZ Board Preparing for Torda450 Anniversary

UNOSZ Board Preparing for Torda450 Anniversary

In 2017, the board of UNOSZ, the Unitarian Women’s Association of Romania, decided to publish a book of prayers and reflections written by women, dedicated to the 450th anniversary of Unitarianism in Transylvania. This publication by UNOSZ is the first book of prayers and meditations written by women, in UNOSZ’s 108 years of existence.

A call for proposals was announced in Unitarian magazines, and on the IWC webpage and Facebook page. We received a total of 121 prayers and reflections written in Hungarian, and with IWC’s assistance, 32 writings from 16 different countries: all the continents will be represented in the book! A committee worked on grouping the writings by theme, and another examined them in professional terms.

A chapter will be dedicated to prayers; and another to reflections. In these two chapters you will find writings written in the original language, translated into English and Hungarian. The countries represented are Australia, Bolivia, Canada, the Chech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, India, Japan, Kenya, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Philippines, Poland, Switzerland, and United States.

Our intention is to bring the world into the houses of Transylvanian women and offer them a colorful bouquet reflecting the female soul. The vibration of the gentle, pure feminine spirit in these writings imbues its readers’ hearts with love, harmony, and peace. To read the threads of all these women’s souls being woven is an unforgettable experience.

The beauty and sincerity of these works guide me on the path of faith and spirituality. Each is a pearl that we can wear as a jewel: we are what we are, different in terms of culture, education, tradition, and lifestyle, but united with same purpose: to make the world and our lives better and more secure.

The book will be launched on August 18, 2018 at the UNOSZ Annual Meeting in Kolozsvár. We hope to see many of you there!

Here is a little preview – excerpts from two submissions:

Por medio de las aguas que inexorablemente fluyen llegó a mi corazón la libertad de Torda, desde entonces se que mi espíritu como el agua tomará libre forma, libre voz, que como una gota de agua o una lágrima consolara mi existencia y calmará mi sed.

The freedom of Torda inexorably gushes forth, reaching my heart; henceforth, I know that my spirit, like water, will take free form, free voice; like a drop of water or a tear, it will comfort my existence and calm my thirst.

Submitted by Olga Flores Bedregal, Bolivia

Women working together all over the world for a better world for all.
Naku te rourou nau te rourou ka ora ai te iwi
With your basket and my basket the people will live. 

Te Aroha (Love)
Te Whakpono (Faith)
Te Rangimarie (Peace)
Tatou tatou E (for one and all)
Let it be.

Based on Maori proverbs; submitted by Vivien Allen and Tina Huesing, New Zealand

The President’s Column–Winter 2018

Arlene Johnson, President, International Women's Convocation

Arlene Johnson

We are pleased to announce that the International Women’s Convocation (IWC) received a $13,000 grant recently from the UU Funding Panel that will help us plan with the UU Women’s Federation and UU Women & Religion on how we might best work together going forward.  Even though we have different herstories and missions, we do have some common goals.  During our Third Convocation in California, February 2017, approximately 250 participants made it clear what their priorities were within the five streams (Economic Opportunity, Education, Health and Reproductive Justice, Leadership Development, and Violence Prevention), and where they thought UU women should focus their energies. This prompted us to explore how we might collaborate with other UU women’s organizations in USA. Currently, we are holding monthly conference calls and making plans to hold a weekend meeting in Boston with organizational leaders this fall.  We have invited Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, UUA President to attend.

I am happy to announce that our workshop proposal was accepted for General Assembly in Kansas City this June.  The title is #Me Too: Called to Challenge Systemic Patriarchy.  It will be held Saturday, June 23, 1:30 – 4:00 pm.  If you are planning to come to GA, please put this important workshop on your calendar.  Some of the goals are to recognize the pervasiveness of sexual harassment in all societies and the need to confront physical, sexual, economic bullying and abuse in systems of patriarchal authority; and, to support the victims of abuse.  After a panel discussion, we will break into small discussion groups to develop positive steps for moving forward.

March 8th is International Women’s Day.  We recommend that you and your congregation celebrate your international UU sisters and their work on behalf of women.  We are particularly proud of the great collaboration between Transylvanian women and the women of North East India (read about this inspiring story of cross-cultural connection on page 3 of the newsletter). We encourage congregations to share a plate collection with IWC during March or May to support our projects to improve women’s lives around the world.  We are also asking individuals to consider contributing to our crowd funding campaign that will benefit women in the Philippines and Bolivia (see page 2 of the newsletter).

Earlier this month, the International Council of Unitarian Universalists (ICUU) held its conference in Nepal and we were delighted that several of our IWC leaders attended and represented IWC.  Thank you to board members Phyllis Marsh (US) and Elgiva Shullai (India), former board members Creamlimon Nongbri (India) and Sharon Van Duizend (US), our Global Sisters Council member Dr. Rica Lamar (India) and stalwart networker and supporter Julie Steinbach (US).  Please see Sharon’s article on her time in Nepal (page 9 of the newsletter).

The IWC board and staff are now wrapping up a strategic planning process, expected to be completed by spring. We look forward to sharing the results of our strategic planning as we shape the road ahead for this organization.  Thank you for your generous support and your willingness to speak out on behalf of women!

The Impact of a Phone Call:  Sisterhood Transcending Cultural and National Boundaries

By Gizella Nagy, Transylvania, in collaboration with Elgiva Dora Shullai, India

Late evening on February 22, 2009, the phone rang. Cathy Cordes, then executive director of UUPCC, called to tell me I had four days to pack: I can attend the first U*U women’s convocation in Houston, TX! To me, this sponsorship was an unbelievable present. I do not know my benefactors, but I am grateful even today. I felt that a simple „thank you” is not enough for this invaluable gift. While still in Houston, I thought that the most I could do is to help organize the second convocation in Transylvania. Thus, three years later, in October 2012, U*U women from all over the world came together again for the second convocation in Marosvásárhely, Transylvania.4th Cycle Transylvanian Women's Leadership Program

At this gathering, participants agreed that it would be essential to organize training sessions for women that provided not only theoretical but practical learning as well; where women could hone their leadership, organizational, and financial skills, build their self-esteem and confidence, and learn about lifestyle management and community development. 2013 was the year of preparation. UNOSZ (the Association of Unitarian Women of Romania) conducted several surveys, and with proceeds from the second convocation and the help of a grant from the UU Funding Program, the leadership school was launched in 2014.

During the next two years, UNOSZ conducted five weekend trainings, and regularly sent reports to the board of IWC and for the IWC newsletter. Demand surpassed expectation: overall, about 250 Hungarian women took part in the modules. This made it possible for our sisters in India to become more aware of the programs organized by IWC and UNOSZ in Transylvania.

Seng Kynthei Leadership Development, India

Seng Kynthei Leadership Development, India

In 2015, with financial assistance from a UU Funding Program grant, similar trainings were launched in Khasi and Jaintia Hills in Meghalaya, India, under the aegis of Seng Kynthei, the Women’s Wing of the Unitarian Church of North East India.

The one-day trainings focused on various topics: leadership and communication skills, gender equity, sexual and reproductive rights, economic empowerment and opportunities for women in the labor market, prevention and elimination of violence against women, etc.

The leadership development program in India took place at a centralized place – in Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya. Elgiva Dora Shullai, the coordinator of the program, reported that in the beginning, the number of attendees fell under their expectations. They were disappointed. However, soon they realized that limited financial means prevent women from traveling to Shillong to attend the training. Consequently, Seng Kynthei decided to move some of the trainings to the villages. Four follow-up sessions followed, each in a central village of each Unitarian district, and the number of participants multiplied. The substantial increase in interest prompted the organizers to decide to continue the trainings.

As an appreciation of the struggle of our sisters in India, the board of IWC and UNOSZ took the decision to transfer the sum of $900.00 representing the 2017 Mothers’ Day plate collection in Transylvania (collected from 37 congregations, one district women’s association, and two individuals) to the leadership development program in the Khasi and Jaintia Hills. We would like to thank all the Transylvanian congregations and organizations for their contribution. We are very proud of the way Transylvanians came together to help our sisters in faith in India to make life better not only for the women in their communities, but for the entire Khasi society.

The Mother’s Day plate collection in Transylvania is part of the international plate collection program of IWC. It is a sign of respect and appreciation for women: on International Women Day (March 8) and Mother’s Day (in May), IWC encourages U*U women, congregations, and women’s groups worldwide to attend the movement to support the programs of IWC.

Gizella Nagy and Elgiva Shullai in Transylvania, August 2016

Gizella Nagy and Elgiva Shullai in Transylvania, August 2016

Elgiva’s hopes for the leadership program in Meghalaya include the following:

  1. A woman should be able to make nutritious and balanced foods for her family with the means that are available locally.
  2. A woman should be aware of opportunities to improve the financial status of her family.
  3. A woman should educate her children about women’s rights from an early age.
  4. A woman should not tolerate any injustices to herself or to her children (especially girls).
  5. A woman should stand up for her rights and not become a victim of discrimination.
  6. A woman should help her society grow in a healthy environment.
  7. A woman should speak her faith in her daily life.

I would like to complete Elgiva’s wonderful list with this:  Women should preserve local cultural values while nurturing and passing on traditional values – those that do not disadvantage their personal development and do not make them helpless, vulnerable, or discriminated against.

In addition, I would like to welcome the attitude of our brothers in Khasi and Jaintia Hills. They recognized the importance of the education of women and of the programs organized by and for women. They proudly wore the White Ribbon on the International Day of Elimination of Violence against Women, standing with the women, side-by-side.

In Romania, the recently launched campaign of the Women’s Wing of the Hungarian political party (RMDSZ) focusing on combatting violence against women and domestic violence encouraged women to let their voices be heard.  During the last few months, more and more cases have emerged where violence in family provoked diseases and pushed women to escape from home, full of fear; in some cases, violence even led to death. Unfortunately, this issue is a national phenomenon; legislators have noticed and are now feeling the need to adopt stricter laws. These events prompted us to continue our leadership trainings in May of this year with a new module: protection of family (women, children, elders) and our environment.

Our leadership training handbook, currently under review, will include a chapter dedicated to combatting and preventing domestic violence and violence against women and children. The funding for the publication will be provided by IWC, UNOSZ, Hungarian Unitarian Church, and participants.

Thank you, Cathy Cordes, for your phone call. And thank you Zsófia Sztranyiczki (then international coordinator of the Houston convocation), for your support – in 2009 we did not know each other, but you encouraged Cathy to call me. You see, one never knows what the long-term outcome of a phone call is!